rural telephone pole

The FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) today seeking input on whether to increase the speeds that providers receiving rural broadband support through the A-CAM program would be required to deploy. The proposal recommends increasing the funding available for the program and increasing the time that providers on the program would have to undertake the deployments.

The NPRM was created in response to a proposal for an Enhanced A-CAM program filed with the FCC by a group of providers currently funded through the program known as the ACAM Coalition. The proposal calls for providers receiving Enhanced A-CAM support to be required to deploy service at speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream.

Currently the minimum speed that providers must deploy is 25/3 Mbps, but as a draft NPRM circulated by the FCC notes, that target doesn’t match well with the higher 100 Mbps speed target that has been established for the $42.5 billion BEAD rural broadband program that will be administered by NTIA. (The A-CAM program is one portion of the Universal Service Fund high-cost program for rural rate of return carriers and the high-cost program has a combined budget of about $2 billion annually.)

The BEAD program initially targets unserved areas, defined as those lacking 25/3 Mbps service, but if all unserved locations in a state are served or slated for service, funding can be used toward deployments to underserved areas, defined as those lacking 100/20 Mbps service.

As the ACAM Coalition proposal notes, that opens up the possibility that an A-CAM carrier could use the funding to deploy service to an area at 25/3 Mbps speeds and the area could immediately be considered underserved.

As the FCC explained in a press release, the NPRM also seeks input on how the FCC could:

  • Use the new Broadband DATA Act maps to determine any new deployment obligations
  • Calculate support for an Enhanced A-CAM program, including whether the existing A-CAM framework continues to be appropriate
  • Align specific proposals with Congressional intent, as well as programs at other agencies
  • Improve the administration of the high-cost program and better safeguard the Universal Service Fund

Providers and provider associations issued statements generally voicing support for the A-CAM NPRM. 

“NTCA deeply appreciates the FCC’s ongoing commitment to universal service, which itself is a program that requires ongoing commitment by providers to serving rural communities,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. “We are grateful for today’s vote, and we are eager to move now to the next stage of the debate over how best to both realize and sustain universal service in rural America.”

“WTA has supported the FCC releasing this proposal for public comment,” said Derrick Owens, Senior Vice President of Government & Industry Affairs for WTA—Advocates for Rural Broadband. “We’ll continue to discuss the ideas outlined in the NPRM with our members and will provide feedback to the FCC. We’ll also continue working with our industry partners to develop plans that ensure the USF High Cost Program (HCP) provides sufficient and predictable support to all HCP recipients.”

“TDS Telecom is pleased with the unanimous vote to begin the rulemaking process to enhance the Alternative Connect America Cost Model (ACAM) program,” said Andrew Petersen, senior vice president of Corporate Affairs for the company. “An extended ACAM program will certainly bridge the digital divide by bringing future-proof internet speeds to rural areas. This vote is an important step forward to help deliver reliable and affordable broadband to rural families and businesses across America.”

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